April 12, 2008

Serving at the principal's pleasure

It was a little over a year ago that we started hearing that phrase a lot, “To serve at the pleasure of the President.” Alberto Gonzales said it, Republicans used it to defend the firing of all those US Attorneys, and William Safire etymologized it in the Times, from whence this:
It seems to me that the pleasure principle could use some updating in our political discourse. . . . The political meaning of pleasure is far from “delight” and even further, one hopes, from sexual gratification. It means “control,” which will always be shifting and disputable in a flexible, balance-of-power system. In future commissions and laws, we should strike pleasure and insert “sole authority.” Archaisms are fine reminders of the lexical past . . . but not when they undermine semantic reality.

There's nothing in any contract ever signed by the BoE and the UFT that accepts the premise that educators serve “at the pleasure” of their principals. Yet they are doing just that, worse than ever. It's just another dirty little secret in BloomKlein’s war against veteran teachers.

No one's talking about all the legitimate reasons for letting someone go, like poor attendance, being without lesson plans, or even criminal behavior. A contract is a contract, as are the other laws and regulations that obligate employees.

But what’s going on across the city is way more than firing teachers for just cause. It’s become a battlefield here, and BloomKlein is not on our side. (There’s not much evidence they’re on the parents’ or the kids’ side either, but that’s for another discussion.)

In this restructured and chaotic bureaucracy they call a Department of Education, there's a remarkable shift away from the kind of balance-of-power system described by Safire towards a de facto “sole authority." Principals and superintendents will have their way with us. They're not firing people outright all that much, but empowered by Klein’s minions and a union that refuses to draw a line in the sand, they are nevertheless managing to thin the ranks.

Here is a sampling of this chancellor’s battlefield strategies in this “theater” we call NYC public education. All will demoralize the average teacher and set him thinking of early retirement:
Letters-in-the file that can no longer be handled by a grievance (Art.21.A.5). The union claims that members now have a right that is “superior” to a grievance, in that you can remove negative material in the file after three years, but only if it's not used for any disciplinary action (Know Your Rights, Feb. 28).

What a crock. The whole purpose of a deceitful letter is to make sure it is entered as evidence into a U-rating, discontinuance or 3020a procedure. If the union says it can’t be removed from the file in these cases, who then is it protecting, the BoE? The principal? It sure ain’t us.

Tolerating a malicious use of the Evaluation and Observation System described in Art.8J of the contract. First of all, where did the wording in this clause:
the traditional classroom observation by a principal or supervisor which includes pre- and post-observation conferences and written feedback/comments
get changed to:
Ask for both pre- and post-observation conferences, in writing if necessary.
That's in Know Your Rights also, which clearly implies these conferences are something you have to go around requesting. Re-interpreting (i.e., weakening) the contractual language is either union complicity or union stupidity, take your pick.

It’s hard to keep track of the cases of teacher abuse on this score. We hear that pre-observation conferences are frequently scheduled inconveniently, skipped, or otherwise mismanaged. Observations, too. In one school, for example, a principal thought he was allowed to pop in for the formal observation on teachers any time during a whole week! Written feedback often includes lies, and important explanatory material can be purposely omitted. Your letter of refutation might just as well be sent directly to the dead-letter department at the local post office for all the good it will do.

Wrongful arrest of teachers by police (here and here), and why unless the crime is egregious and front-page news are handcuffs necessary? Does anyone think a teacher would flee the classroom or the principal’s office if he's not being arrested for a specific crime and just being asked to discuss a matter outside of the school building?

Gimme a break. If teachers are the felonious types these cases imply, there’d need to be a lot more pre-employment checks on us than just a set of fingerprints to keep the potential bad guys away from children.

The monstrous acceptance of bad behavior by administrators who abuse and demean staff, particularly in front of kids. They're not going to get any slap on the wrists by this BoE, and you can't file a harassment charge against them on your own. Only the UFT can do that (under 23A), and mostly that doesn't happen.

The monstrous acceptance of bad behavior in the upper grades, when kids should know better. An entire culture of rudeness, vulgarity, insults, false accusations and the like has taken root in our system and there are no stipulations anywhere in the BoE’s regulations that call for a student's actual apology.

The continued shortage of guidance counselors and social workers, the large class-size caps and tolerated overages that simply don’t match the magnitude of this social issue, and the revolving-door detention rooms all speak to the BoE’s complete ineptitude and/or unwillingness to recognize that one heck of a lot of kids need to be counseled or re-introduced to the basics of social intercourse.

Abuse is abuse no matter whose mouth it comes from. It permeates some schools and is very depressing. I would like to know why the BoE chooses to look the other way on this issue.

Hearings for 3020-a charges that end in bargaining with the arbitrators over the amount of your fine. I heard that at the center of many of competency cases is insubordination, so you’ll go back to the classroom, but you'll only get there with a fine. This practice of bargaining your fine is both inappropriate and unacceptable. Maybe it's a special BloomKlein method of trimming the salaries of the most expensive employees.

Activities of OSI (Off. of Special Investigations) specifically designed to catch a member off-guard. The UFT can publicize its “Don’t say anything to anyone without union representation” as much as it wants, but the vast majority of teachers are people with a heightened sense of morality and service, ergo their choice of profession. They also have as a social group an unusally healthy respect for their rights and obligations under the Constitution and the laws of the land; they know in their very bones that these are designed to protect children as well as themselves.

Educators are not, however, legal eagles, and they don’t think like such animals in situations that cry out for a measure of self-protection. Your sophisticated “gotchas” will be successful, but they don’t guarantee any wrong has been done.

Union-bashing, political posturing, encouraging the press to bad-mouth teachers, etc.

With the contract under this chancellorship rendered meaningless in so many ways, we are now all serving, whether we like it or not, at the pleasure of the principal.


  1. You have only scratched the surface of the anti-teacher crusade by Klienberg and our union's refusal to draw a line in the sand and tighten up the contract language.

    On my blog I have ranted about both the DOE and our union about these very issues and what should be done. However, it appears our union leaders don't read and continue to allow the DOE to do what they like.

  2. Re: Chaz

    Reading the blogs won't change Unity's position.

    Why would it? How many teachers read the blogs or even know that the blogs exist?

    I am convinced the only way for us to challenge the DOE and our union's lack of leadership is to organize ourselves and take direct action.

    If there is a better idea, please put it forth.

    Ready and Waiting

    P.S. The blogs can be a great organizing tool (information/education).

  3. I'm not sure about BoE people not reading the blogs, not all of them of course, and not mine necessarily.

    Just this morning, I was alerted to this blog, and looked into www.edpolicythoughts.com. His most recent cites other blogs by name. The author is a PhD candidate in ed policy, he circulates and talks to people.

    One time someone posted a comment about Carmen Farina (now retired). She was told of it and had something to say back pretty quickly.

    The newspapers from time to time say something like "The blogs are talking about..."

    Patrick Sullivan (at Klein's PEP) is supported and commended by the blogs; he responds online and he does a great job questioning the veracity or sagacity of Kleinworld.

    Some bloggers have been plugging away for years, and way, way before that in print. Some of these same people have been active in organizing and running opppositional caucuses in the union, spending time, money, and intellectual energy all the way.

    If you do not commit to some kind of oppositional "project," nothing moves.